Saturday, June 23, 2007

Brave New World, or, Bait and Switch?

I went to hear an author speak the other day.

The book she had was billed as romance, but she spent time explaining repeatedly, romance it was not.

So I sat there, kind of confused. Then the dh and I discussed at length over lunch.
I’m not fond of the bait and switch, and at first that's what it seemed. The plot is not traditional romance though there are romantic leads and interests and sub-plots for the main character. But it is not summed up with an HEA (Happily Ever After). The main character goes on into other books.

It was the publisher who elected to bill it as romance. The author was explaining not to let the billing throw you (to her customers). The publisher is one among many struggling to attract the younger audience into the genre. Yet they know folks will buy based on spine billing of 'romance', and may experience disappointment.

I think this boils down to a calculated risk. “The first taste is free” strategy,a way to get folks to break out of the normal comfort zone without too much fuss, more so than bait and switch. Yes, there is romance, though no, it is not 50% + 1 of the book, or more. Yes, the protagonist experiences the rollercoaster ride expected, but not with the anticipated ending. The arc moves over several books. It’s a lot like a manga style series, or, something you might see in a season of Buffy, or Angel, or, Supernatural (to be more timely). Also similar to some comic books. It’s relatable to the younger crowd, yet it has the elements of romance. It lures them in. And, it lures in the seasoned readers as well. The first taste is free for them as well…maybe they find something that is not quite the normal fare, yet, tasty never-the-less? Are we really looking at the brave new world of romance, where you're not restricted to telling the story in one single book?

I guess for me, the jury is still out. I have to read the book cover to cover to determine if it’s something I like. But it’s cross genre in nature, so is it such a stretch to see the blending? I think some of the more modern romances first bent the Happily Ever After Ending rule by dispensing with the obligatory baby and ring on the finger epilogue. They moved to a ‘potential to continue on in some kind of blissed-out togetherness’ for the couple. And truth be told, that was a breath of fresh air for me.

Maybe this is a further evolution, particularly since the heroine is quite young in her first book, and growing into her particular role? Now, we have the HEA to be determined later, down the arc road, maybe book three, maybe book five. Is romance evolving? More, are the veteran readers who account for the bulk of the spending, ready for that evolution? Or, are the publishers thinking that they can switch out some veterans and bring in fresh blood just as ready to part with disposable income?

So, bait and switch, or brave new world? I like to think brave new of intentions and all that. It will be interesting to see if other books/publishers follow suit, or this experiment doesn't yield the expected results.

What ever the truth, it’s worth considering, both as reader, and author. As reader, caveat emptor. If you’re going for comfort, test your product more than the first three pages or you may not get what you started out to find. If you don’t mind pot luck, have at it. And if you’re an author, you may need to do what this woman did and be clear to your audience about what your product is, and is not. Or, you could be daring, and take the risk, and give your characters room to grow across a multitude of books, rather than shoe horning all the action and satisfaction between two covers joined at a spine.

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